Textured Vegetable Protein: What Is It and How Do I Cook With It?

111119_Getty Textured Vegetable Protein image

If you’ve ever sampled vegetarian meat substitutes, you probably know that these alternative proteins can be pretty hit or miss when it comes to capturing the true texture of chicken, beef, or pork. Most diners can discern a real beef patty from a conventional veggie burger without hesitation. There is one meat substitute, though, that has the potential to fool meat lovers and vegetarians alike: textured vegetable protein. And if you’ve ever eaten at a school or hospital cafeteria, you’ve probably already sampled some without knowing it. 

Textured vegetable protein, or TVP, is a soy byproduct that’s created when manufacturers collect soy oil. The product, which is often sold in bulk, usually appears as dried, light brown chunks or cubes that have a rough, almost cardboard like texture to the touch. Once rehydrated, however, the morsels take on the texture and appearance of unseasoned ground beef or turkey, and can be used in exactly the same ways. TVP has no real flavor of its own, and it absorbs spices easily, making it a perfect universal meat substitute for tacos, spaghetti, chili and any other recipes that call for ground meat. It’s also incredibly cheap, which is why institutions that have to feed large numbers of people are known for using it to extend the actual meat in their recipes. A 10 oz package of TVP, when purchased online, costs about $2.50. 

Easy never tasted so awesome.

To use TVP, scoop a cup of the soy chunks into a bowl and rehydrate using a cup of hot water. I like dissolving a bouillon cube into the water for the rehydration step (be sure to use a vegetarian or vegan bouillon, if you’re looking to keep the dish meat-free), so that the soy can begin soaking up the taste that I want for the recipe. After about five minutes, the TVP should be rehydrated. However, there may be excess water in the bowl, which can cause the TVP to lose the meat-like texture you’re looking for. That excess water can be wicked away by using a kitchen towel or a napkin to gently pat the top of the TVP. 

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Once the TVP is rehydrated, feel free to continue with your recipe as you normally would when using real meat. If you’re using TVP as a meat extender, brown your beef and turkey and then add the TVP to the pan once the meat is done cooking. If you’re creating a chili, soup, or some other type of meat-filled sauce, you can avoid oversaturating the TVP by waiting to add it until the last step. When properly seasoned, TVP should be nearly indiscernible from actual animal products. 

To the unfamiliar, TVP may look like an unappetizing ingredient, but it’s actually a handy way to boost your meals without breaking the bank. A single half cup of TVP contains more than 50 grams of protein, so it’s a fantastic boost for those who are hoping to up their protein intake. By experimenting with TVP, you’ll be able to impress the vegetarians and vegans in your life without compromising flavor or texture for the meat eaters at your table. 

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